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Rangeley man pleads guilty to aggravated OUI: ‘Make your life a legacy for Rusty Knox’

Mark Garner (Franklin County Detention Center photo)

Mark Garner (Franklin County Detention Center photo)

FARMINGTON - A Rangeley man pleaded guilty to aggravated operating under the influence in Franklin County Superior Court Tuesday, for his role in the death of a Wilton man killed in a vehicle collision last fall.

Mark Garner, 25 of Rangeley, pleaded guilty to the Class B felony as part of an arranged sentence that resulted in him receiving two years on a nine-year, partially suspended prison sentence. A charge of manslaughter was dismissed.

The plea arrangement was made with the acceptance of the family of Rusty Knox, the 35-year-old husband and father of four who was killed as a result of the crash.

On the evening of Oct. 25, 2016, at approximately 7:46 p.m., Franklin County Sheriff's Office Deputy Andrew Morgan responded to the Lambert Hill Road, near the Strong and Avon town line after being advised by dispatch that "people were stuck in the vehicle as it was on fire."

The vehicles, both red pickup trucks, had collided head-on. A 2004 Chevrolet 2500 traveling southbound up a hill had collided with a northbound 2007 GMC 2500, operated by Garner. According to police, evidence at the scene indicates that the 2007 GMC, Garner's vehicle, crossed the center line and struck the 2004 Chevrolet front, driver's side door.

At the scene Morgan was met by Garner and two other individuals, Felicia Bell, 32, of Phillips, and Dennis Hanson, 39, of Phillips, all of whom were "frantic and yelling for help." The driver of the Chevrolet, later identified as Knox, was stuck in the driver's seat and all immediate efforts to either extinguish the fire or extricate Knox were unsuccessful. Knox died from his injuries.

Garner was interviewed at the scene, saying that he had been driving too fast and had drunk too much prior to driving, indicating to law enforcement that the crash had been his fault. Garner and the other two individuals, both passengers in his vehicle, were transported to Franklin Memorial Hospital. Blood kits were conducted on all three individuals. Garner's blood alcohol content level was determined to be .096 grams per 100 milliliters of blood; above the legal limit of .08.

Bell told Morgan at FMH that Garner had been drinking since approximately 5:30 p.m. and that she had driven Garner and Hanson to Strong in Garner's vehicle so that Garner could get new tires. Bell, who said that she had not been drinking, said that Garner had decided to drive "because Felicia [Bell] was driving too slow," per the arrest affidavit. Bell said that Garner had been driving roughly 80 mph immediately prior to the crash.

Hanson was also interviewed, largely confirming Bell's statement. He indicated that Garner had driven back from Strong to "show off how fast his truck could go."

Robbins said that FCSO Det. Ken Charles had conducted the crash reconstruction, determining that Garner's vehicle had been traveling 73 mph at 2.5 seconds prior to airbag deployment, slowing to 57 mph .5 second prior to impact. The brakes had engaged as Garner's truck collided with Knox's truck.

Garner had no criminal record prior to the crash.

Robbins said that a somewhat different sentence had been jointly recommended as part of the arranged plea, with the acceptance of Knox's family. The nine-year prison sentence was suspended for all but two years, followed by three years of probation. In addition to conditions of no use or possession of alcohol, with random search and test for same, Garner will need to serve 400 hours of public service. At least some of that will be meeting with students of local schools to describe the dangers of drunk and reckless driving. Garner will need to visit at least 10 schools, with every hour of public speaking equating to two hours of public service time.

Garner will also have to pay a $2,100 fine and lose his license for 10 years; both penalties are mandatory minimums for his crime.

Several members of Knox's family addressed the court and Garner. Knox's sister, Jammie Tyler, asked the court to accept the recommended plea. She said her family's faith had helped them let go of the anger.

"We mean no harm to Mr. Garner," Tyler said, asking that no one "mistake our forgiveness for a lack of love for Rusty."

"Rusty has loved and touched more lives than I ever knew," Tyler said, noting that more than 430 people had attended her brother's funeral. She asked that Garner take the chance to "be the man you should be."

"Don't let my brother's life be in vain," Tyler asked.

Alyson Knox, Rusty Knox's wife, said that she would "grieve for every moment that my kids miss their dad," but that she did not need to destroy two families as part of the process. She said that she wanted Garner to have a full and happy life, because that was the same thing she wanted for her own children.

Briefly addressing the court, Garner said that he did not have the proper words to say, but that he thought about the crash every day. "All I can truthfully say is sorry," he said.

Justice William Stokes accepted the plea arrangement, calling the Knox family's collective statements one the most "moving and impressive" he had heard in a case. He said that he had no reason to doubt Garner's remorse for his actions, noting that the Rangeley man had taken responsibility at the scene of the crash. Both Garner and his passengers had made "awful" decisions that had led to the crash, Stokes said.

"You will live with this for the rest of your life," Stokes told Garner. "Make your life a legacy for Rusty Knox."

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6 Responses »

  1. Knox family - You are the epitome of kindness and generosity.

  2. I thought that same thing when I read this story!

  3. May you all find peace and comfort in knowing what's "just around the corner"..

  4. What an amazing act of kindness and forgiveness.. I don't know that I could have made the same decision. rusty was loved by many and the fact that your turning tragedy into good will not go unnoticed. His precence was missed at his brothers wedding and will be missed from all his family and friends.
    The judge couldn't have said it better , I hope he does what is right by Rusty! RIP Rusty

  5. Knox family, you are wonderful people. I couldn't do it....

  6. Rusty was a Jehovah's Witness as are his family. It is there faith and desire to live by Bible principles each day of their lives and their strong faith in the Bible's promise to see Rusty again that gives them the strength to respond in the loving, merciful way that they have. Stellar examples for all of us 💟

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